What it’s like to drive the highest road in the world…

To get to the Nubra Valley we had to drive over the pass at Khardang La (“la” means “mountain pass”).  They say it is the highest road on the planet.  It has switchbacks, blind corners, one lane, no guard rails or shoulder of course.  Our driver honks his horn going around each turn but he doesn’t slow down much.  I am in the lead car.  Then the pavement ends and we slow down.  It gets bouncy.

Khardung La
Khardung La

At 18,380 feet, this place is four thousand feet higher than I’ve ever been before.  We see Yaks!

We see Yaks!
We see Yaks!

There is a heavy military presence.  In fact, the Indian Army built this road.  We are very close to the borders with China and Pakistan.  We pass through several checkpoints, each time showing our passports and permits.

Switchbacks on the Khardung La road
Switchbacks on the Khardung La road

Then it gets a little scary.  We are swerving downhill in a light rain and convoys of trucks are coming up the slope.  We are passing on the outside edge, Bollywood music blasting.  Each time we go face to face with a truck no one blinks.  We zoom past without slowing down.  In that moment a miraculous contraction in space-time allows two large vehicles to pass each other on a one lane road, tires just inches from the edge.  At least that’s how we experience it.  Actually, there are practically no wrecked cars or trucks at the bottoms of the cliffs, so these drivers must really know their stuff.

Truck approaching on the Khardung La road
Truck approaching on the Khardung La road

We drive down to the Shyok River (“River of Sadness”) and the Nubra Valley.

Everyone's a philosopher up here
Everyone’s a philosopher up here

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